While it’s certainly worth taking pre-season friendlies with a pinch of salt, they’re not meaningless games. Try telling Kobbie Mainoo, who just bossed the midfield in Manchester United’s 2-0 victory over Arsenal, that his performance was meaningless.
You know all the summer tour cliches. Minutes in the legs. Bedding in new players. Building the brand (pass us the bucket) with overseas audiences. That’s all true, and it’s daft to make definitive predictions about an upcoming season based off pre-season performances and results.
But one genuinely useful aspect of money-spinning friendlies are the opportunities they provide the talented academy players on the fringes of first-team action. And this summer Mainoo is taking his chance with both hands.
The Stockport-born midfielder, who has been developing his skills in United’s youth ranks since the age of nine, has long been talked up as a star in the making. But his first-team action last season amounted to less than 90 minutes, with one cameo in the Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup apiece.
Having impressed with mature and tactically astute performances in pre-season victories over Leeds and Lyon, Mainoo is quickly making himself the story of United’s summer.
“We have to see in pre-season,” Erik ten Hag told reporters in his pre-match press conference ahead of the clash with Arsenal.
“He gets his chance because he deserves it. Because he showed it in the Under-21s and in our training.
“He showed a high level and now he has to show it in games. So pre-season is perfect to test him.
“He is an option to get into the game squad and to get playtime. We will see but I am confident he can do it and we have to wait we have test if it is going to happen.”
Sure enough, Mainoo was handed a start in midfield against last season’s runners-up at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
He featured in an XI that is otherwise close to Ten Hag’s best XI, featuring the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Mason Mount, Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez. And in the opposition midfield was Declan Rice, English football’s most expensive player, making his first start for Mikel Arteta’s Gunners.
And he near enough stole the show.
The 18-year-old looked the most impressive midfielder on the pitch and assisted Bruno Fernandes for the opener. The new club captain shared the opinion of thousands of United fans getting hyped about their latest prospect.
“Honestly, Kobbie is a great player, he shows great resilience,” Fernandes told MUTV.
“He’s always ready to work. He’s capabilities are high and everyone can see it [his talent]. He’s good on the ball, strong, he can defend and attack.
“You see how he attacked the space for my goal. He’s still pretty young, but we see a bright future for him and hopefully he will get more minutes, more time, and he will be a great player for us.”
The McFred era appears to be over. Both Fred and Scott McTominay face uncertain futures at Old Trafford, following the game-changing impact made by Casemiro last season.
Mainoo looks like he has all the tools in his arsenal to step up and shine in United’s pivot. He looks the perfect fit for the project Ten Hag is building and it would be no surprise to see him regularly building attacks from deep for years to come.